We asked Chicago: Is there enough access to early childhood education?

The No Small Matter team recently hit the streets in our hometown of Chicago to ask everyday folks — including some educators and parents of preschool-aged kids: do enough families have good access to daycare and preschool?

Watch this quick video to hear what Chicagoans had to say - and let us know in the comments if you've had your own struggles to access childcare and preschool where you live.

Mac-N-Cheese Please!!

Are you ready to have the greatest mac-n-cheese ever?!? It may come as a surprise but did you know that children's book author and illustrator Todd Parr is also an amazing cook?! Well, he is! Here is Todd's recipe for the the best mac-n-cheese EVER. 

Let’s start with the ingredients

  • 1 box of pasta (if you use elbow macaroni you can talk about different body parts!! Science!!)
  • 2 cups of cheddar cheese
  • 1 can condensed milk
  • 2TBS butter
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Here’s what you do.

Boil water and cook macaroni. Set aside.

In a separate pot over medium heat add 2 TBS of butter.

When melted add a small handful of the cheddar cheese.

To the cheese and butter add a full can of condensed milk.

Add remaining cheese and turn the heat on low.

Stir continually until the cheese is completely melted.

Add the cheese to the pasta and stir.

WARNING: This will be hot!

Add salt and pepper to taste.

Wanna turn this into a tasty math and science lesson? Here’s how.

Start with the measuring. Have the little ones measure out the butter and cheese. If your child is anything like me make sure to watch them with the cheese (I’m a totally cheese sneeker!) Measuring allows your child to work on quantity, volume, fractions, and one-to-one correspondence.

Boiling the water is a great place to insert some science. You can talk about the properties of water. Ask your little learner what happens when water gets cold and when it gets hot. Ask them to make predictions about what will happen when you add heat. You can even do a time exploration by making predictions about how long they think it will take for the water to boil.

Bring in some more science with the cheese sauce. Discuss how cheese is a solid (another place to insert some science vocabulary). Then ask them what they think will happen when you add the cheese to the heat.

Finally, you can wrap up this mini lesson with setting the table. Have your little one count how many cups, plates, and forks you will need for dinner. Let them set the table and count as they do each place setting.

Sharing a meal is a powerful thing. According to The Family Dinner Project, sharing regular meals with family reduces substance abuse and depression, while promoting higher grade point averages and boosting self-esteem. 

MASSIVE thanks to Todd for sharing his home, his food, and his friendship! Check out Todd Parr for all things Todd! 

                                            -Ms. Giannini


The Best-Ever Books for Preschool Rug Time

Reading to children is one of my favorite parts of being a teacher. Nothing is better than 20 captivated little ones listening intensely to a story. When we read to kids amazing things are happening. They learn language, sequencing, comprehension, logical thinking — basically the list goes on and on. However, if the story flops (and we’ve all been there) the kids take nothing away and you are left frustrated. 

To start, a quick video of my top ten favorite rug time books.

And now, after putting out feelers to the teaching community, I offer you more rug time books that are guaranteed to keep our little ones engaged! These are in no particular order. Enjoy!

Little Nino’s Pizzeria - by Karen Barbour

Art and Max - by David Wiesner

13 Words - by Lemony Snicket

Fortunately – by Remy Charlip

The Mixed Up Chameleon – by Eric Carle

The Gruffalo – by Julia Donaldson

Ain’t Gonna Paint No More – by Karen Beaumont

Quick as a Cricket – by Audrey Wood

One Hungry Monster – by Susan Heyboer

A Soup Opera – by Jim Gill

The Jazz Fly – by Matthew Gollub

Please, Mr. Panda – by Steve Antony

The Day the Crayons Quit – by Drew Daywalt

The Very Busy Spider – by Eric Carle

Little Blue Truck – by Alice Schertle

The Dot – by Peter H. Reynolds

Skippyjon Jones – by Judith Schachner

The Paper Bag Princess – by Robert Munsch

And my personal favorite…….. Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge – by Mem Fox

Warning: Grab a box of tissues

If I missed your personal favorite don’t forget to include it in the comments below... because amazing rug times are No Small Matter.

Preschool Philosophies: Waldorf

Most people who aren't too familiar with the Waldorf Preschool philosophy might have some questions about it: Who started it? Why? Do they really wait until second grade to teach children how to read? 

Well, we've done some investigating and made a few discoveries that might surprise you. So take a look to see what makes the Waldorf philosophy truly one of a kind! 

Hopscotch is basically a giant calculator, right?

This week on the No Small Matter Vlog, we're continuing our summer STEM series with a demonstration of how you can use a classic childhood game — hopscotch — to teach addition and subtraction. Watch as Rachel and some of her students try this lesson for preschool math out.

The basics? When you think about it ... drawing a hopscotch grid is like drawing a giant calculator! So put it to use. A teacher or a parent can call out a number, and have a child jump to that number. Then call out one more, and they jump there. Here's the trickiest part — adding those two numbers together and then jumping to the sum! It's fun, engages a group, and helps preschool-aged learners think fast by adding in their heads or on their fingers.

Give it a try before the summer's through!

Summer Science Series: Teach the Elements Using Bubbles

Who knew that bubbles could provide an awesome STEAM and (or STEM, your pick!) learning activity for preschool aged-kids? They're a great way to learn about the elements, specifically, how gases work. Watch as Rachel walks some of her former preschool students through play and learning with bubbles.

What are gases, anyway? How do you teach something you can't see? 

But wait! You CAN see gases when you know where to look — when they're trapped in a soap bubble! Our team of little learners explores how we breathe gases in and out, using the fun of bubbles as a guide. Watch and share ideas you've used to teach young learners about gases in the comments.

Summer Science for Preschoolers: Discovering Shadows

We have a riddle for you:

What gets bigger... 
and smaller? 
What goes to bed at night...
and wakes up every morning? 
A shadow!  

Exploring the wonders of shadows with your kids this summer can be a fun way to teach them about planets. The concept of shadows can sometimes be a little difficult for kids to grasp, so why not take them outside for a some hands on experience? All you’ll need is some sun, chalk, and friends! Then..

1. Pick a place to draw the shadow and a stance you’re willing to hold for a little bit
2. Mark your feet with X’s
3. Have the kids trace your shadow with dark chalk
4. Come back every two hours
5. Stand in the same spot as the X’s
6. Retrace your shadow to see how it’s changed! 

Then take some time to ask the kids what happened. How has the shadow changed? Is it shorter? Taller? How could this have happened? And give the kids the opportunity to ask questions, too. Get them thinking about the world around them and planets other than the one they live on to teach them just how amazing science can be! 


Bug Activities for Preschoolers

For some, bugs are: CREEPY. CRAWLY. ICKY. 

But, they are everywhere! And bug play is a great way for preschool age children to explore nature right in their own back yards. So Rachel invited her friend and former co-teacher Tracy to join her for a quick tutorial on how you can use bugs in a preschool setting - with and without having to get too up close and personal with your new insect friends.

Rachel and Tracy get down with two different kinds of bugs: Bess Beetles and Tobacco Horn Worms, which Rachel acquired from a great company that can send you bugs that are native to your local habitat.

Some great tips for working with bugs:

  •  Break out a magnifying glass to look at the bugs details and build vocabulary (it's green, it has a tail, etc.)
  • Think up fictional stories about the bugs' lives
  • Let the children do research on the bugs and report back to you as bug experts
  • And so much more! 


P.S. Looking for bug "sources"? Here are a few websites Rachel has bought from in the past:

Superhero Play for Preschoolers

Call it superhero play, power play, rough and tumble play - whatever you call it, this kind of play is often banned in schools and discouraged at home. But, it can be developmentally appropriate, and teaches kids all kinds of things about flexibility, adaptation, strategy, and emotions. Watch for tips from Rachel (and a demonstration with her friend Cory!) about how you can (safely) encourage power play at home and in the ECE classroom.

What does power play for preschoolers look like? It can be anything from kicking, to play hitting, to battling, to chasing. And here are just some of the reasons why it helps kids grow:

  • It practices negotiation - how to be dominant, how to be submissive
  • Kids learn what acceptable rough and tumble play looks like
  • It builds trust between kids, and between kids and adults

Just make sure to play in a wide open space - and when someone says stop, STOP! 

Play hard, have fun, and be safe y'all!